Yesterday was the testing day for Korea's national college entrance exam...the biggest day of a Korean's student life. The Korean educational system brings teaching to the test to a whole new level...almost everything they do in school--starting in elementary--is geared towards the exam in some way. Korean high school third years (seniors) spend an entire year exclusively preparing for it (all the high school ETAs don't get to teach their school's third year students, since ETA conversational English is not relevent to the exam), staying at school and hagwon (private academies) until well past midnight (as opposed to the carefree first and second years, who often go home as early as 10 pm).
Everything in Korea is affected by the exam on testing day. All government institutions (including Gongju Gyodong Chodeung Hakkyo, which started at 10 am) and many private businesses either close for the day or open late so as to lessen traffic while the test takers are on their way to testing sites. I'm serious...we missed almost 2 class periods so that high school third years could have smooth roads and empty buses. My host brothers still left the apartment at 7:30, however, in order to join the throngs of cheering, banner-waving fans that gather outside testing sites to cheer for entering third years. On top of that, to protect the students' concentration Korean airspace is a no-fly zone during the listening portion of the exam.
Scary...especially when I think about the ways in which the American NCLB, accountability-driven education system is rapidly heading in this same direction.